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Conducting Focus Groups

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  1. Conducting Focus Groups API Survey Training June 15, 2006 Mia Robillos Rainbow Research

  2. Focus Group Facilitator Job Summary • Lead a discussion with a group of 8-12 people for a period of one-and-a-half to two hours. • Move the discussion along and ensure that all questions/topics are covered in the time allotted • "Break the ice" by creating a comfortable environment for the free exchange of opinions. • Encourage participation so that everyone that chooses to contribute has an opportunity to be heard and that no one individual dominates the discussion

  3. Focus Group Facilitator Specific Responsibilities • Attend to participants' personal needs and comfort • Spell out the purpose of the group and ground rules for participation • Dispel tension and discomfort - "Break the ice” • Follow the interview guide and get as far through the agenda as possible • Keep the discussion balanced • Use open-ended questions to probe more deeply and draw people out • Wrap up the meeting • Debrief with the recorder at meetings' end to review key points and impressions

  4. Focus Group Facilitator Desired Qualities • Genuinely interested in others and their perspectives • Enjoys conversation • Flexible; comfortable in departing from the script and "going with the flow" of conversation • Sense of humor • Comfort with disagreement & argumentation

  5. Focus Group Recorder/Notetaker Job Summary • Record the discussion with a group of 8-12 people for a period of one-and-a-half to two hours. • Capture the conversation by taking detailed notes. • On some occasions, and if the group agrees, capture the conversation by audio taping or video taping the group discussion

  6. Focus Group Recorder/Notetaker Specific Responsibilities • Take accurate detailed notes of discussion • Write down quotes that seem particularly meaningful • Make note of gestures, expressions, noises or other signs of agreement or disagreement • If discussion will be taped, secure active agreement from each group member • If using recorder, make sure everything’s working, e.g., batteries, AC cords, outlets, microphone (sound check) • Assist the facilitator by monitoring the time • Have prearranged signs or signals for cueing the facilitator when to move on • Debrief with the facilitator at meetings' end to review key points and impressions

  7. Focus Group Recorder/Notetaker Desired Qualities • Genuine interest in others and their perspectives • Legible handwriting • Good listening skills • Familiarity with the operation of recorder

  8. Stages of Focus Group No single formula or recipe for carrying out focus groups but there is a general outline and a "rhythm" to conducting focus groups. Described in four separate stages: • Stage One: Setting the Stage • Stage Two: Filling Out the Landscape • Stage Three: The Focus • Stage Four: Wrap Up and Reflection

  9. Stage 1 • Basic administrative tasks briskly completed. • Facilitator and notetaker introduce themselves and explain the purpose, sponsor, how information will be used, etc. • Basic ground rules, particularly emphasizing mutual respect and confidentiality, are reviewed • Assure participants there are no right or wrong answers and the group is not expected to agree--in fact disagreement and divergent viewpoints are encouraged!

  10. Stage 2 • Beginning questions are asked to help people feel comfortable and to begin to sketch in the larger framework for the discussion • Open ended questions ask people to fill in their perception of the "landscape” related to the issues of concern • People are asked to speak about more general, abstract things and begin to feel comfortable in a group discussion • Questions asked in Stage 2 can also help ease the tension and let the group discover their connections or common ground. E.g., general questions about how people perceive the climate, their communities and some reference to changes over the past five years

  11. Stage 2 (cont.) • People are likely experiencing " primary tension" that comes with being in a new group, or a new group meeting for the first time • Until the tension is released, the group won't be optimally candid, comfortable or productive. Facilitator should work to dispel that tension (e.g., have them introduce themselves) • Very important that everyone in the group has an opportunity to speak in this stage (first five to ten minutes critical)

  12. Stage 3 • Focus narrows to the specific concerns of the focus group research; group agenda shifts from the general background landscape to the specific issues (like a funnel) • At this point, divergent opinions and speculative ideas are encouraged • Group communication will change; expect periods of loud, even raucous communication • Important to recognize and take note of the content which generates such outbursts of activity (e.g., noisier, louder voices, two or three people talking at once; a high level of interest; and nonverbal participation like head nodding, leaning forward, animated faces)

  13. Stage 3 (cont.) • Note down Chaining and Conflict situations • Note what kinds of content (the stories, issues, or concerns) that trigger chaining or conflict • These provide important clues to what is important to the group and what generates high levels of involvement and emotional response

  14. Stage 4 • Facilitator begins to wrap up the group and provide some closure • At this stage, questions are designed to help participants reflect on things they've learned from the earlier discussion • Facilitator signals the end is near, often observing the time, and asks a specific reflective question that encourages participants to think back over the group discussion • Final thoughts are solicited and the moderator brings the group to a close, with thanks to participants

  15. Helpful Reminders for Facilitators • Arrive at the focus group location at least 10-15 minutes before the start • Arrange chairs in a circular or rectangular fashion • Familiarize yourself well with the focus group guide • Conduct the focus group in a conversational tone • Be objective • Be ready to handle conflicts (opinions, philosophies, or personalities) • Encourage equal participation from everyone, but also keep track of time • Try to get through all the questions as much as you can • Keep track not only of the questions you ask, but also of participants’ responses